Homecoming gives a team the opportunity to show its former players and other alumni where the program stands.

This year, Southern hopes to show that its Southwestern Athletic Conference championship of last season is a better gauge of the program’s status than the Jaguars’ 56-16 loss at Alcorn State last Saturday.

Aeneas Williams, the former Jaguars defensive back and recent inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, will be the marquee alumnus on hand when Southern celebrates its history and tradition as it meets Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at A.W. Mumford Stadium.

“Homecoming is always a fun time,” senior offensive lineman Dewayne Houston said. “A lot of old players come back to see us, and it’s good to have our old teammates back here. Most of the time they’re here for encouragement and to see how the program is doing.”

Despite the lopsided loss last week, Southern (2-3, 1-1) is doing OK. It controls its fate in the SWAC West Division as it plays its first conference home game since a 44-38 overtime loss to Alcorn more than 11 months ago.

“It’s homecoming, and our backs are against the wall,” coach Dawson Odums said. “But everything that we can achieve is still in front of us. We know we’ve got to play better. We know that they’re a football team that’s searching as well. This is their first division game.”

The Golden Lions are 1-3 and 0-2, having lost to SWAC East foes Alabama State (42-7) and Jackson State (33-30 in overtime last week).

“By no means is this season over,” UAPB coach Monte Coleman said. “The guys are still motivated. We’re still talking about going to the SWAC championship. If we just handle our business throughout the Western Division, we’ll have the opportunity of achieving the goal of making it to the SWAC championship.”

Southern suffered its most lopsided SWAC loss in four seasons last week at it allowed 682 yards, including 410 rushing. It trailed just 28-16 at halftime before being dominated in the second half.

“We definitely need this one to get back on the winning track,” Southern linebacker Roshaud Turner said. “We feel like we weren’t as bad as we put on film last Saturday. We know that, and we think everybody knows that. So we’re ready to get back to playing Jaguars football this Saturday.”

Odums said he talked to the players at the beginning of the week about balancing homecoming festivities with game preparation and locking in on the Golden Lions, particularly late in the week.

“We try to let them know homecoming is for alumni,” he said. “The game is for you, and you need to make sure that your mind is focused on playing the best game that you can play.”

Odums said the Jaguars have worked to get the defense playing more instinctively and faster.

“I think these guys understand the importance of playing fast, getting off to a fast start and finishing football games,” he said. “I think you’ll see a different team on Saturday. They will get better.”

Freshman quarterback Austin Howard is expected to go the distance for the third consecutive week as Deonte Shorts is sidelined by a groin injury.

The Jaguars hope to get one or two of their three injured running backs back from injury. Jamarcus Jarvis and Malcolm Crockett have been sidelined by ankle injuries, but both practiced this week. Tyre Bracken is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.

Southern followed each of its first two losses this season with a victory. After beginning the season with a 45-6 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette, the Jaguars routed NAIA opponent Central Methodist 56-14.

After a 51-27 loss to Northwestern State in their last home game, the Jaguars won their SWAC opener at Prairie View 34-24 two weeks ago.

Southern hasn’t lost consecutive games since the first two games of last season. After a 0-2 start, the Jaguars beat Prairie View and Mississippi Valley State. After a loss to Jackson State, they beat Alabama A&M and UAPB (29-21).

After the loss to Alcorn, they finished with five straight wins, including a victory over Jackson State in the SWAC championship game in Houston.

Southern wants the alumni to leave Saturday night equating this year’s team with that triumphant finish to last season — not the debacle of last weekend.

“One thing I’m proud of with this program is (that) we bounce back,” Odums said. “If you say, ‘What’s our pedigree?’ It’s bouncing back. It’s because we have a mindset, and that mindset is to move on, play the next play, play the next game.”